During the early years of the West Village art scene, the artist and published novelist, Harland Miller, felt dislocated from his family home in Yorkshire, UK. It was during this time that he created a character, something like an alter ego, International Lonely Guy. I am mentioning this, since to me, every international lonely guy needs a companion and it is no surprise that for Harland Miller and his character, the companion is a book. Harland Miller’s new exhibition Tonight We Make History (P.S. I Can’t Be There) at Blain Southern Gallery in Berlin, departs from the artist’s use of appropriated images and incorporates his own designs. The new pictures still reflect Miller’s interest in creating abstract paintings that emphasize text and words as imagery equally effective as written messages and pay homage to the quintessential English thing - a well designed and thought-through book cover.
For Harland Miller, the Penguin book cover and its design, evoked an instant feeling of nostalgia while he was living in Paris. Miller decided to buy numerous different titles of different famous authors, like Fitzgerald or Hemingway while he was living abroad. What struck the artist the most was how the design of the book, emphasized the title. To Miller, the Penguin book was similar to the Campbell’s soup can of Andy Warhol, since these books were what he ended up reading every day in Paris. Further book designs inspired the artist, and Miller’s formal and conceptual inspiration, this time, can be linked to the abstract geometrical covers of popular psychology books of the 60’s and 70’s, a time when positive messages often masked social neurosis. This inspiration is evident in Miller’s new exhibition Tonight We Make History (P.S. I Can’t Be There), where along the previous paintings of Penguin book covers we are confronted with new large-scale paintings as well as paintings of a smaller format that seem to act as punctuation marks.
Often, Miller repeats and re-uses the titles of the books and applies them on to different compositions and with the use of a different color. With this, the artist explores and demonstrates how the color and form relationship can change the way in which the titles are interpreted. Often, the choice of the color can be the governing force behind the reading and the rhythm of the title. Sometimes, apart from the reference to the titles of books, Miller likes to use advertising slogans, something that already has an association, like a phrase from an old advertisement, or a line from a song, anything that people have heard before. This use creates the ringing of a distant bell and as the slogans are read one is made aware of the associated rhythm. The sentiment of the artist’s phrases remains open enough to incorporate in every work a different idiosyncratic significance to each individual viewer. The text and the words are viewed as integral parts of the work and are as effective as other elements of the painting in the creation of a visual imagery.
The exhibition Tonight We Make History (P.S. I Can’t Be There), marks the first solo exhibition for Harland Miller in Germany and also the twenty-five years since the artist lived in Berlin. It is also while he was living in Germany that Miller encountered many German painters that used text as an integral part of the work, which only strengthened the artist’s choice of the subject matter and his approach to painting. His self-evident painterly paintings have a great ability to make the viewer laugh and also bring that nostalgic feeling of worn out books that are in our pockets while we travel and experience life.
On view at Blain Southern Gallery in Berlin, from 30th April through to 30th July 2016, Miller’s exhibition continues the artist’s inspiration in the conversation between the text and the image as the governing force behind his abstract paintings.
All images courtesy of Blain Southern Gallery and the artist. Featured image in slider: Harland Miller – Portrait of the artist. Image via othercriteria.com. All images used for illustrative purpose only.